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MLA President’s call to action on federal budget plans

Written By: daveski on April 21, 2011 1 Comment

A bit of a public service announcement: Modern Language Association President Russell Berman has issued a letter calling upon its members to protest the cuts to education, especially languages and the humanities, that are written into the new federal budget. This section from the letter, in particular, highlights the damage that stands to be done to international education and higher education more generally, should this budget be enacted:

Devastating cuts of 40% to Title VI and to Fulbright-Hays, the key federal program for International Education and Foreign Language, will do catastrophic damage to efforts to equip students with the linguistic and cultural knowledge necessary to understand today’s world. Given the widespread recognition of the challenges of globalization and the complexity of international relations, the decision to slash funding for education programs like Fulbright-Hays by more than $50 million is incomprehensible.

The MLA is equally dismayed at dramatic reductions ($140 million) to the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). FIPSE has played an important role in supporting the internationalization of higher education.

Further, the reduction of $12.5 million to the National Endowment for the Humanities budget will impede the progress of the Bridging Cultures initiative, which helps us understand the ways cultures from around the world influence American society.

What can we do here at Berkeley to get the word out? Are there responses underway at other schools around the country?

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One Response to “MLA President’s call to action on federal budget plans”

  1. Jonathan on: 22 April 2011 at 7:50 am

    Thanks for posting this, Dave. You have already, in part, answered your first question. I’d certainly like to hear what’s happening at other schools. The cuts to these programs, compounding our state budget situation here in CA, will likely have an adverse impact on the ability for aspiring scholars to access language immersion programs and conduct research overseas. It represents a loss for undergraduate language learners, as well, for whom overseas educational opportunities represent (anecdotally, at least) an important incentive to continued language study.

    Certainly, here at Berkeley, language departments and area studies centers should be getting the memo and adding their voices to that of the MLA. When I think, though, of what I could do as a Graduate Student Instructor, I cannot help but stumble upon all the disincentives to action that I experience as part of a quasi-professional class, and which I think can shed some light on why it is so difficult to advocate for “languages” in general:
    1) Unless I’m sitting in on a BLC talk, trying to learn another language, or taking some wild interdisciplinary cross-cultural seminar, I’m not necessarily going to ever see, much less talk to language instructors from other departments. My primary identification, then, is going to be with my discipline and focus (e.g., French symbolist poetry, New German cinema, Japanese Noh drama)rather than as part of a “language” constituency.
    2) The organization that brings language instructors together most effectively is our professional union, which organizes us, however, as GSIs, and not as language teachers. Thus, the priorities we assume within this context are more broadly related to our livelihood and a number of funding cuts and changes to benefits that are affecting the UC system.
    3) After worrying about funding cuts, teaching language class, going to BLC talks, completing seminar work/draft dissertation chapter, passing the language requirement, and squeezing in an hour for Facebooking each day, a GSI is going to be pretty exhausted and hard to motivate.
    4) When you add to this an academic-y disposition to treat with skepticism rhetoric like “equip students with the linguistic and cultural knowledge necessary to understand today’s world. Given the widespread recognition of the challenges of globalization and the complexity of international relations”, it gets really complicated.

    And that’s just from the perspective of a GSI, and does not address the issues facing lecturers, pedagogy coordinators, and other stakeholders.
    I think the task ahead of us, then, is one of awareness-raising not of specific funding issues but of the fact that a language community exists whether we realize it or not, and, further, that we have a “scholarly” challenge to define what makes our community distinct, cohesive and necessary. These, I think, are the prerequisites for effective advocacy.
    Now, how do you suggest we do that?

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